By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
He’s back! Two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso will once again reunite with Renault DP World F1 Team for an unprecedented third time and replace Daniel Ricciardo, who’ll be heading to McLaren next season.
Wednesday’s official confirmation marked the first time an F1 driver is set to drive for one team on three separate occasions since Nigel Mansell with Williams (1985-88, 1991-92, 1994).
Rather than risking things like eyeing a Renault Sport Academy racer such as Formula 2’s Christian Lundgaard or Guanyu Zhou, the French constructor decided to pursue a more obvious approach by signing an established racer as they’re currently facing an unknown future.
With McLaren running Mercedes-Benz engines next season, Renault is all on their own when it comes to power units. Having Alonso will provide a much needed and dedicated experience to the team as he’ll be paired up with 23-year-old Esteban Ocon, who’s two-year deal expires at the end of the 2021 season.
Renault Sport Racing’s Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul said in a press release that having Alonso is a step in the right direction as their main goal is trying to put Renault back at the front of the grid. Especially, with the new car and regulations set to commence in 2022 which could see the competition be a lot closer.
“The signing of Fernando Alonso is part of Groupe Renault’s plan to continue its commitment to F1 and to return to the top of the field. His presence in our team is a formidable asset on the sporting level but also for the brand to which he is very attached. The strength of the bond between him, the team and the fans make him a natural choice,” said Abiteboul.
“In addition to past successes, it is a bold mutual choice as well as a project for the future. His experience and determination will enable us to get the best out of each other to take the team towards the excellence that modern Formula 1 demands. He will also bring to our team, which has grown very fast, a culture of racing and winning to overcome hurdles together.
“Alongside Esteban, his mission will be to help Renault DP World F1 Team prepare for the 2022 season in the best possible conditions.”
For Alonso, who’ll turn 39 years old on July 29, the mindset he has is rather simple. There’s still some unfinished business in F1 despite having two titles (2005-06), 32 grand prix victories and 97 podiums before walking away in 2018 after four heinous seasons driving the extremely unreliable McLaren Honda.
“Renault is my family, my fondest memories in Formula One with my two World Championship titles, but I’m now looking ahead,” said Alonso. “It’s a great source of pride and with an immense emotion I’m returning to the team that gave me my chance at the start of my career and which now gives me the opportunity to return to the highest level.
“I have principles and ambitions in line with the team’s project. Their progress this winter gives credibility to the objectives for the 2022 season and I will share all my racing experience with everyone from the engineers to the mechanics and my team-mates. The team wants and has the means to get back on the podium, as do I.”
Alonso’s two previous tenures with Renault (2002-06 and 2008-09) were compelling that garnered a ton of media notoriety which occasionally comes to define his legendary career.
Following a year with Minardi in 2001, Alonso became a reserved driver at Renault the following year before being promoted back to the 20-car F1 grid in 2003 where he captured his maiden grand prix win at Hungary.
From there, Alonso’s career rose in both 2005 and 2006 where he scored 14 wins, 12 poles, and 29 podiums in that span. More importantly, Alonso became the youngest double world champion at the time beating the likes of Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher in that span.
At the prime of his career, the Spaniard left Renault for McLaren in 2007 which was meant to last three years. That would change following a fiasco and political filled campaign, highlighted by McLaren’s exclusion from the Constructors’ Championship and Alonso went back to the French constructor in 2008.
Alonso’s second stint didn’t have quite the same spark as Renault couldn’t match the dominance set by both Ferrari, McLaren and later Brawn GP in those two seasons. In his first year back, Alonso only won two grand prix races that year at Singapore and Fuji. Followed by a lackluster ninth place in the driver’s championship and wound up winless for the first time since 2004.
The relationship ended due in large part of “crashgate,” as Renault ordered Nelson Piquet, Jr. to deliberately crash in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, a race the Spaniard took the top step of the podium. Alonso decided to move on to Scuderia Ferrari in 2010 where he scored his last 11 F1 victories to date.
Over the past few years, Alonso has been competing in multiple racing disciplines, including the FIA World Endurance Championship where he, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima brought Toyota Gazoo Racing home the 2018-19 LMP1 championship and the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Due to the latter, Alonso (along with Juan Pablo Montoya) has a shot of becoming only the second man to accomplish the Motorsports Triple Crown (wins at the Monaco Grand Prix, 24 Hours of Le Mans and Indianapolis 500) that’s only been done by Graham Hill.
All that’s left for Alonso is the Indianapolis 500, a race he had a shot of winning in 2017 before the engine expiring late in the race. Then last year, he failed to make the field for McLaren after smaller team Juncos Racing with driver Kyle Kaiser bumped him out of the 33-car grid.
Alonso will seek for redemption as he’ll compete in the 104th running of the 500-mile race in a third Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, hoping to qualify for his second NTT IndyCar Series start August 15-16.